CATFISH IN YOUR BACKYARD POND. FRIEND OR FOE?
Probably the biggest misconception I see among pond owners is that introducing a catfish to the backyard pond or water garden will help keep your pond cleaner. With respect I’d like to burst the bubble on that school of thought. Catfish, although scavengers, will not do anything to actually help keep your koi pond water garden clean; and may actually have a greater impact on lowering the overall water quality of your pond than your traditional koi and goldfish will!
As a pond pro part of my job is to give advice that even I may not want to live by and that includes the advice I give about keeping catfish in your backyard koi pond or water garden installation. However; before I give my angle on catfish, we need to narrow down which type of catfish I am referring to. Most fishkeepers will be introduced to catfish via the aquarium hobby, and if that is the door you came in through then you know that there are many genus and species of “catfish”. Some of these catfish grow no bigger than an inch in length, while others can become behemoths capable of swallowing small animals!
When it comes to catfish in your backyard pond we are not really stocking either of those extremes, but typically the catfish that go into our ponds and water gardens can get very large, very quickly; sometimes up to 10lbs! In the wild the channel cat can get up to 40+ lbs. By far the most popular catfish that is sold by water garden and pond centers is the channel cat; so for this argument’s sake let’s pick on them.
The channel cat, Ictalurus punctatus, is most often sold to pond owners who have the belief that these fish will somehow keep our ponds cleaner and clearer by eating all the garbage, algae, and fish waste that occurs in the pond. Any experienced, honest pond fish reseller should tell you this will not be the case.
The channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is a fish of “MOSTS”. Ictalurus punctatus is the MOST populous catfish species in North America, it is the MOST popular catfish in aquaculture practices, it is the MOST adaptable catfish living in habitats from clear to muddy waters and lakes to streams, and the MOST popular state fish being the official fish for Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Tennessee! It is the MOST popular catfish with U.S. anglers, and the MOST tasty delicious catfish. It is also the MOST popular catfish for ponds, and possibly the MOST misunderstood choice of pond fish on the market.
So let’s dish up the channel cat. The channel cat is an omnivore actually, which by default makes it a scavenger, but the channel cat is not a fish to depend on for housekeeping in your pond. In its natural settings the channel cat will eat “smelly” foods like decomposing fish, but also chow down on worms, crayfish, shrimp, other fish, lots of frogs, insects, larvae, seeds, and algae too. However; the channel cat will actually adapt very well to the feedings that you provide for your expensive koi and pond fish. They will very quickly become the primary consumer of your expensive fish food, easily muscling your koi out of the way at every feeding; and the channel cat can eat a lot! Channel cat in the pond equals skinny koi and high food bills. If the catfish is not satisfied with the feedings you provide it would not be surprising if smaller fish in your pond start to disappear. Blame the heron, but the catfish may not be so innocent either!
Channel cats are also nocturnal, and become active at about the same time that most other pond and water garden fish are trying to settle down for the night. This may create a certain level of stress to the more desirable pond fish like koi and ornamental goldfish. The channel catfish is rarely bought for the purpose of adding beauty to the pond because they don’t have great coloring, typically grey or “gold”. They also hide most of the time only coming out for feedings. And they will not create better water quality or reduce waste in your pond.
For those that are enthusiasts of the keeping the channel cat in the backyard pond or water garden there are many good points to this fish. The channel cat is very easy to keep, being able to handle a wide spectrum of water quality. They will take just about any prepared fish food, so don’t be shy about buying that 50 lb. bag of trout chow to keep up with their appetite. They are not expensive and widely available. Channel cats can be bought small and grow out quickly. They handle low water temperatures no problem, and they live a long time with 12 to 20 years a typical life span. When they are big enough they can actually be ridden around your pond like a dolphin. Well, maybe they can’t be ridden, but the other positive aspects of the channel cat still hold water.
Given the information you now have, you can decide whether keeping the channel catfish in your backyard pond is for you. General pond fish keeping hobbyists will love the channel cat for the many positive aspects they have. Those trying to keep a more controlled koi pond environment may want to think twice before buying these fish for their “housekeeping” reputation. Whichever the case, I am sure that the channel cat will be available to pond and water garden keepers for many years to come.
Mike Gannon is owner at Full Service Aquatics located in New Jersey, USA. Being “In The Pursuit Of All Things Aquatic” has led Mike to be a lifelong hobbyist and fish enthusiast. Mike began working professionally in the aquarium and pond industry in 1990. Full Service Aquatics started in 1995 offering all services, design, and installations of koi ponds, water gardens, and aquariums. Since that time Full Service Aquatics has become recognized for their designer pond installations, featured in publications, and winning awards within the water garden and pond industry. Mike is the creator of THE POND HUNTER video series on YouTube, the LOVEYOURPOND page on Facebook, and the LOVEYOURPOND Blog. Mike’s website www.loveyourpond.com is dedicated to koi ponds, water gardens, natural ponds, other aquatic interests. The website features a gallery of beautiful pond images and a comprehensive FAQ section. To contact Mike visit his website www.loveyourpond.com or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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